Mumbai : The BMC’s annual budget may have a provision for constructing 18 new night shelters in the city but what comes as a shocker is that, the civic body has only a single night shelter for women. At a time when crimes against women are increasing, this makes homeless women all-the-more vulnerable. And even the condition of the existing night shelters for boys and men is not laudable in the city.
If the 2011 census is to be believed, Mumbai has 57,700 homeless people. Even if 50 per cent of these are women, this means that the BMC has only one homeless shelter for approximately 29,000 women. With such a large population who may be beggars, domestic workers, rag pickers and other informal labourers, the BMC is leaving these women to fend for themselves despite a Supreme Court directive asking all urban local bodies to provide such 24X7 homeless shelters.
The civic body has seven night shelters for the city’s homeless, one each in Byculla, Churchgate, Khetwadi, Bandra, Dadar, Andheri and Malad. When FPJ visited some of these, it found out that one of them in Dadar is dysfunctional while the other five were kept exclusively for boys or men. Only the one run by the NGO Prerna in Khetwadi allowed girls to stay there for the night.
“Our night shelter allows girls upto the age of 18 years and even some older women in dire need. They are provided with evening snacks, dinner and breakfast. But of the 60, about 40 are boys and only about 20 are girls,” informed Aruna Katkar of Prerna. The same NGO used to run a similar shelter for women in Kamathipura in a municipal school but that facility is under renovation and the occupants have been shifted to a nearby private premises until then.
“The BMC has done excellent work, but only on paper. There is no homeless shelter for women in the city. There is no provision in the draft DP also,” said Brijesh Arya, President of the NGO Pehchan which works for the homeless.
The others are no better : When FPJ visited three night shelters in the city, it found that they were plagued with several problems.
Churchgate: This homeless 24X7 shelter in Churchgate is situated under a staircase that is used to access Wankhede stadium during matches. Passers-by seldom realise that there are people living inside the little space that exists beneath the staircase but it is home to about 25 kids. A two-storeyed structure, it is home to boys between the ages of 6 and 16 since 2011. The boys are a cheerful lot and are eager to interact with visitors. They are provided with breakfast at their shelter home, after which they walk up to a school in Bora Bazar. Most eat lunch in school while dinner at home is a humble affair of dal, rice and papad. They are allowed the luxury of roti-chicken on Sundays. This homeless shelter suffers leakages during monsoon but since it is under Wankhede premises, the NGO Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC) which runs it has to take permission from CCI to do the repairs every year. Besides, begging and addiction are other issues here. When FPJ asked these children if they feel scared at night since the suburban trains pass right above them, they all replied in the negative. “We are not afraid of anything. Humko maza aata hai,” said Kartik Sawant, a student of class V. Most of these kids have single parents who sleep on the footpaths.
Byculla: Located in a non-descript lane in Pathan chawl, this night shelter is home to older boys and was started only three years ago. It consists of 30 boys between the age group 18-23 sharing about five rooms. They cook food for themselves in turns and all of them work in different places around the city. But FPJ doubted if these were the kind of people in need of shelter since the boys seemed to have good incomes and could not be counted as homeless. Here too, the boys complained of heavy leakages in the monsoon. This one is also run by SPARC.
Malad: This homeless shelter was started by Mother Foundation two years ago and is home to about 50 boys. Most of these boys too have single parents who either beg or sell their wares on traffic signals. Surprisingly, most of these kids go to English medium schools and are allowed about two hours of playtime everyday along with some TV time. But for the 50 children, this shelter home only has two bathrooms and toilets each. “We are in the process of renovating this place and will soon have four more toilets for the children,” informed Jyoti Shaikh of Mother Foundation.
City Needs 125 Night Shelters, Has Only 7
Mumbai : Despite a Supreme Court directive to have one night shelter with a capacity of 100 for every 1 lakh people in cities, Mumbai only has seven, of which one is dysfunctional. The BMC, which is supposed to build 125 such shelters to house the city’s homeless at night, now plans to build 18 in the ongoing financial year but has expressed its helplessness when it comes to actually building 125. According to it, the civic body owns only 19 percent of the city’s land.
Night shelters are refuges for homeless people, including beggars, informal labourers, hawkers and others. While there are some shelters which may be open only at night, there are others which are open 24X7 and occupants are free to come and leave. A night shelter is a basic residential facility having mattresses or bed-rolls, blankets, functional toilets, urinals and security. The Supreme Court, in a 2010 order, directed all state governments and Urban Local Bodies in cities having a population of more than 5 lakhs to have one 24-hour homeless shelter with a capacity of 100 persons, per one lakh of the population. This means that for a population of approximately 1.25 crores, Mumbai needs 125 night shelters. But the BMC has contested this figure stating that since it owns only 19 per cent of the city’s land, it can only construct 19 or 20 per cent of 125 i.e 25 night shelters.
Thus, the civic annual budget which was presented in February this year calls for constructing 18 additional night shelters to the existing seven. However, what the BMC seems to have forgotten is that one of the seven is dysfunctional and the other six are far from capable of handling 100 people each.
“We now want to create six new night shelters but we are still in the process of identifying land or vacant space for them. I have written to several other departments of the BMC in the matter and should know the final figure within a fortnight. But other land-holding agencies like MHADA, MMRDA or SRA should contribute to the cause since BMC has limited land holding,” said BMC’s assistant commissioner (planning) Prachi Jambhekar.
Even the newly drafted development plan (DP) recognises the need for more night shelters but has not made any specific reservation for them.
“The DP does not specifically reserve space for night shelters since they may not be needed 20 years from now. It is a broad framework under which the BMC can take decisions. But the new land-pooling policy which requires builders to contribute 10 per cent land (beyond 2000 sq mts) for public use can be used to this end,” informed V K Pathak, an advisor to the BMC on the draft DP.